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A Spine Surgeon Examines CrossFit Training

CrossFit group

Every regular participant of CrossFit training relishes the opportunity to push themselves past the usual physical limits of a typical workout regime. CrossFit training experts note that “anyone who comes back to the gym for the second or third WOD will likely be hooked on the adrenaline.” When this intensity is combined with the use of weights and gymnastics, there is always the potential for injury.

Because stories of mayhem tend to garner big TV ratings and internet clicks, the media – both mass and digital – have emphasized the physical dangers of CrossFit training, noting the potential for everything from minor muscles strains to permanent injuries from weight-lifting accidents. While no CrossFit athlete should ever be cavalier about injuries and should always follow directions of an authorized trainer, the physical benefits of this training far outweigh the danger.

In order to bring some clarity to the physical risks versus the rewards of CrossFit training, Dr. Rey Bosita, a spine surgeon at Texas Back Institute in the Dallas/Fort Worth area was asked to give his professional opinion about this issue. Dr. Bosita has lived through a WOD at a CrossFit gym (but just barely!) and his medical training and love of fitness makes him an excellent source on how to get fit without getting hurt!

Functional Training

Dr. Rey BositaCrossFit training is challenging and extremely intense, it takes every ounce of stamina one has just to complete the WOD, and yet millions of people plan their week around going to the gym. What makes this fitness program so popular?

“CrossFit training is new and it’s cool,” noted Dr. Bosita. “Exercise follows fashions and fads, similar to picking the hottest new cellphone. What makes CrossFit so popular is that it integrates training with endurance and emotion, simultaneously. “It will pull from weightlifting, running, some repetitive exercises and it also tries to make the experience fun.” Fitness experts describe CrossFit training as a “functional” training program. What does this mean? 

“Let’s compare CrossFit with a traditional weightlifting program,” Bosita said. “When an athlete is doing a bench press, there are not many activities in the ‘real world’ that require someone to lie on his or her back and push up a set of weights. Functional exercise includes multiple muscle groups in the activity and integrates them in some kind of sport or other physical challenge.

“In CrossFit, there is a goal of exercising the entire body at the same time,” he said.

The Doctor Looks at the Advantages and Challenges of CrossFit

CrossFit training class

CrossFit includes a wide range of exercises and physical challenges including weights, medicine balls, kettlebells, gymnastics, running and others. Dr. Bosita explained the advantages and the potential problems of this type of workout for one’s back.

“The primary advantage is that this is a lot of fun,” he said. “In America, we need more people exercising and if this is one avenue that can get people interested in working out and taking care of themselves, I’m  all for it!

“The potential challenge of CrossFit training is that it is easy to get caught up in the emotional energy of these gyms. It’s like going into a dance club at midnight. Celebrities are there and everybody’s in to it!

“My CrossFit patients who get hurt are not the ones who have been doing these exercises for some time,” Dr. Bosita said. “It’s the person who might have some fitness training background and they get overly enthusiastic and then hurt themselves in the first few weeks of a CrossFit program. When someone tries to push themselves a little too hard – forgetting that they are 40 and not 20 – they get hurt.”

How to Avoid Back Injuries in CrossFit

“Someone who is about to embark on a CrossFit training program has to prepare themselves for the program,” Dr. Bosita noted. “Before they set foot in a CrossFit gym, the person needs to be working on some strength training, some range of motion training and physical endurance training – not just for their back but for their entire body.

“When first starting CrossFit training, I believe they should start at one level lower than they think they should.  Let’s say someone is a weekend athlete and they’ve been spending time working out two or three times a week. I would still suggest they start at a lower level in order to learn the routines and techniques of CrossFit. As with any other sports or workout, proper form will prevent injuries.

Dr. Bosita’s Personal (and Painful) Experience!

If Dr. Bosita sounds like a person who has had experience with CrossFit, there’s a good reason for this. He has and it was not pretty!

“It was probably one of the worst decisions I have made in my entire life,” he laughed. “I won a one-month CrossFit membership at a gym. Of course I went and I got caught up in the emotion and pushed myself a little too hard. I didn’t hurt myself badly, but for a couple of days after this, my back really hurt.

“I didn’t feel any pain at all when I was there, but afterward it was not pleasant. This is why I can offer this advice. I have personal experience that strongly suggests starting slow and getting into the rhythm is the best approach. Don’t just jump in and try to catch up with everybody!”

When should someone be concerned about back pain resulting from a CrossFit workout?

“If a person has pain after working out, the pain should be relieved after a couple of days, especially if the athlete takes ibuprofen, Tylenol or some other over-the-counter pain medicines,” Dr. Bosita noted. “However, if the pain persists and it doesn’t get better, especially if it goes down the legs or causes leg weakness, the person should see his or her physician or spine specialist and get this checked out.”

Do you have any experience with injuries from CrossFit training? If so, how did you deal with them? Contact us and we will share with our readers.